I spend my days speaking with business and creative people and have discovered that many people use words related to innovation interchangeably. Here are the definitions that I use — in business consulting, here in my blog and on the CanInnovate podcast.
The traditional definition of an Entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk. The key here is the word business. A business is when you have a product or service and customers, and operate the enterprise to produce a profit.
An Inventor is someone who creates a new product/process for the first time. It’s a unique way of doing something. This can be big or even small. Facebook, for instance, is seen as inventive and continues to be inventive. Whereas, so was the George Foreman Grill or the Suzanne Somer’s Thighmaster (the latter is mostly gone now, but was a craze in the 1980s where you could sit on your couch and tighten and tone your inner thighs with a simple resistance mechanism.)
An article in Time magazine last year listed 25 Best Inventions of 2017. The list included Jibo, a personal robot that looks like a toy robot, it turns to face you, giggles and dances, unlike the other personal robots such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Other inventions on the list included specialty ice cream, inventions for shoes and cars, a wearable breast pump, and even glasses that give sight to the blind — eSight3 — it translates algorithms to enhance the images that people who are legally blind can see. Super expensive at $10K, but early adopters are keen.
Inventions are distinct from innovation. An invention is something new or unique that is basically first to the market. Early adopters will often flock to an invention before other variations and similar products are developed.
Innovation, by contrast, is an improvement to an existing product, process, thinking or service. The word Innovation comes from the Latin word, Innovatus, which means to ‘renew or change. Think of intermittent windshield wipers. That was an innovation to the existing product of windshield wipers.
In another example, when I used to travel all the time I never understood why flight duration never seemed to improve. When I travel to the UK, flight times have generally been between 7–8 hours (depending on the wind). Now, it looks like Supersonic jumbo jet will have flights from London to New York in under 3.5 hours. Now that’s an improvement to an existing product. Here are some other innovations:
- Animated Emojis — with the new iPhone X — you can turn yourself into an animated Emoji. They’re called Animojis and have characters that can be used to create messages based on your voice and facial expressions. Fun!
- In essence, it is every company’s competitive advantage, what makes them different than anyone else
And finally, Creativity. There are lots of methods to unleash creativity: From brainstorming with a group, to lucid dreaming on your own. And businesses expect that by unleashing creativity within their organizations they will get some ideas generated that could lead to either an invention or radical innovation from within. Creativity/Curiosity can unleash many ideas. Certainly one way to access your creativity is to find ways to let go of your barriers and allow yourself a safe space in which to explore ideas. After all, the idea is to colour outside the lines or think outside the box or better yet, change the box to an octagon!
And, of course, innovation and creativity are not just for business. These tools can be applied to our careers (when we get in a career rut) or in our lives when we realize that we are not where we want to be.
And, if you feel your creativity, or opportunities to be creative, peaked in childhood — exploring, being curious, asking questions, then maybe it’s time to give your adult self permission to be a kid again.
Innovation starts with curiosity. So, what are you curious about???
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